A Note to SFWA Members Regarding Night Shade Books

Dear SFWA members:

This week, we became aware of three recent instances of Night Shade Books acting against the contractual and legal interest of authors, specifically by not reporting royalties when contractually specified or reporting them inaccurately and/or distributing books in a medium for which it had not legally secured rights.

Night Shade does not dispute these events, and shortly after these incidents came to light contacted SFWA as well as released a public statement apologizing to the authors affected, and said it was working to address their problems. It has pledged to work with SFWA to find other authors who have issues with Night Shade.

We are heartened that Night Shade has issued an apology and has pledged to correct its problems. These are needed first steps for a growing publisher that has published some memorable science fiction and fantasy in the last few years, including this year’s Nebula Award winner for Best Novel, The Windup Girl. Regardless of reasons given, such behavior by a publisher to its authors is unacceptable.

With these facts in mind, by vote of the Board, Night Shade Books is on probation as a qualified SFWA market for a period of one year, effective immediately.

In this case, “probation” means that although Night Shade Books remains on our official list of qualified SFWA markets, during the term of probation, acceptance for SFWA qualification of fiction contracted for publication by Night Shade is suspended. If Night Shade successfully completes its one-year probation period, fiction contracted by Night Shade during that time will be viewed as acceptable for qualification for SFWA membership. If it does not SFWA will remove Night Shade Books from the list of approved markets.

No fiction contracted and paid for (by initial advance payment) before the term of probation will be affected by Night Shade’s probationary status.

During the period of probation, we expect the following from Night Shade in order for it to remain on the qualifying list after its probation period:

1. That it fulfills its contractual and financial obligations to the authors it has already published, including full and accurate accounting of royalties per contract, with payment of any royalties outstanding;

2. That it examine its catalogue to ensure it is no longer offering fiction in formats for which it has no rights, and makes whole those authors whose rights it has violated;

3. That it institutes procedures and hires sufficient staff to ensure accurate record keeping for contracts and payments, both for previously published and future authors;

4. That there are no instances of contractual violations on the part of Night Shade Books against authors signed to publishing deals after the start of the probationary period.

During the probationary period, and depending on member participation, SFWA will be in contact with its members who have outstanding Night Shade contracts to assure Night Shade is fulfilling its contractual obligations to them, or is actively and affirmatively working to correct previous violations.

While SFWA may act at any time to deal with a member complaint against Night Shade, at or near the six month mark of the probationary period it will perform a formal review of Night Shade’s progress on tasks above, with the results to be provided to the members of SFWA via our normal means of member communication.

SFWA takes seriously its mission to act in the interests of our members, and of writers of science fiction and fantasy. Placing Night Shade Books on probation as a qualifying market is not an action we have taken lightly. Our hope is that Night Shade Books will consider this probation period as an opportunity to take the necessary steps to correct its problems and to ensure its authors receive fair treatment, today and in the future. If it does, we will be most happy to retain it as a SFWA qualifying market.

Yours,
John Scalzi
President, SFWA

11 Responses

  1. Arachne Jericho

    I am only a mere reader, but I still want to thank SFWA for taking care of some of my favorite authors involved in these incidents (and to help prevent more stories like this, even from other publishers, and perhaps make it safer for authors to speak out about such practices when they occur).

    One less thing to worry (as much) about.

  2. Sam

    Here’s hoping Night Shade comes through this stronger and bringing more great stories our way. From The Windup Girl, to the Wings of Fire anthology, to The Best of KSR, to now distributing Electric Velocipede I have come to value very highly what they’re doing, and it really sounds from what I can see that they’re trying to fix what’s broken and own what has happened.

  3. Scott

    Do we know which Night Shade books on webscriptions were unlicensed? All of them? Can readers be ensured they didn’t only enrich Baen and/or Night Shade when they purchased an ebook?

  4. critter42

    I was just looking at the list of qualified publishers – Meisha Merlin hasn’t been in business for 3 years, yet it’s still on the list? You might want to have all the publishers on the list reviewed…

  5. Jared

    Trying to puzzle this out.

    So non-SFWA members who sell work to Night Shade won’t be eligible for SFWA membership?

  6. Glaurung_quena

    As a mere reader who has a limited book budget, what should I do in this situation? I could avoid buying books by my favourite authors that happen to be put out by night shade… but would such action really help the authors?

  7. Richard Robinson

    Another reader here. You have done a good thing with this, it acknowledges the seriousness of what has happened.

    My greatest concern is that, though Nightshade did the crime and does the time, they will be damaged in a way that will make the unable – or give themselves an excuse to say they are unable to continue publishing or promoting the authors (Williams and Moon in particular) who have books in Night Shade hands.

  8. John

    @Glaurung_quena – I would definitely not stop buying your favorite authors books. As John Scalzi himself wrote on his own blog doing so hurts the authors more than anything else.

  9. John Scalzi Post author

    Glarung_quena:

    I don’t see any reason to avoid buying the books your favorite authors who happen to be published by Night Shade, especially as Night Shade has publicly pledged to improve the way it handles royalties.

    Jared:

    Non-SFWA members who sell to Night Shade during the probation will have that work be eligible, if Night Shade takes the steps we’ve described over the next year.

    Scott:

    As far as we know at the moment, only a few Night Shade books offered on Webscriptions were unauthorized — and in the cases we know about both Baen and Night Shade appear to be working to fully compensate the authors and/or remove the unauthorized material. There may be more than we know about now; we’ll be asking our own members with Night Shade contracts to let us know.

    Critter42:

    Yup, we’ll be updating.

  10. Liz Williams

    John, I very much appreciate the support that the SFWA has given to authors over this issue – thank you.

    I, too, hope that Night Shade shape up. I appreciate the private apology I have received from them, and the current press release. They are reverting the rights of my books to me, and have come through with documentation and royalty statements. This is all good stuff.

    I may, however, be a touch cynical and note that people have been pointing out difficulties with communication as far back as 2007: my agent has had to read the riot act on numerous occasions and we seriously considered pulling the novels in 08, because of a total breakdown in communication. I still don’t understand the reason for this – there must be plenty of potential interns in the region who could at least be issued with a template of a holding email and a list of contacts. So it’s impossible not to note that the press release has only come after the negative publicity from Brendan and myself.

    And when, after years of dealing with someone, you get an email which spells your agent’s name wrong…. Jesus wept, guys.

  11. william benton

    How about some contractual protection for NSB customers – i.e. those who have paid in advance for books that never seem to appear?